Southampton v Everton
Everton’s long Monday night trip to Southampton ended in a goalless draw.
After struggling to get to grips with the home side in the first-half, the Toffees made a much better fist of the second and had sufficient chances to have won the game.
The new Southampton boss, Mauricio Pochettino, may not have a grasp of the English language but he will have been pleased to see his players asking the early questions at St Mary’s.
Phil Jagielka almost gave the Argentinean the start he craved as early as the 4th minute. Rickie Lambert crossed low from the Saints right and when Jagielka slid in to divert the ball away for a corner it flashed no more than a couple of inches past the post.
Jason Puncheon came just as close when he skipped infield and drilled a low shot wide of the upright and then Gaston Ramirez forced Tim Howard into a smart diving save when he tried his luck from distance.
The American had to be at his agile best again in the 20th minute when he launched himself full-length to tip away a fabulous 30-yard free-kick from Lambert.
Artur Boruc was finally called into action when he stooped to gather a low effort from Steven Naismith mid-way through the first period but Southampton’s lively start was having the galvanising effect that Pochettino and doubtless the home board were hoping for.
The Saints skipper, Liverpool-born Lambert, was certainly leading by example and when he took the ball around Baines and aimed for the top corner, Everton were again indebted to Howard.
The American was in inspired form – and it was just as well. Ramirez raced through and fired for goal in the 37th minute and Howard pushed it away for yet another home corner.
From it, Lambert finally found a way past the Everton keeper with a firm header but, of all people, Nikica Jelavic was well placed to stop the ball on the line, allowing Baines to clear it away. It wasn’t gone long though and when Jos Hooiveld found himself in space inside the box he shot wastefully straight at Howard and Jelavic was there again to thump it to safety.
It was all one-way traffic and just before the break Puncheon crossed from the left and the rampant Lambert wasn’t far away with another well controlled header.
A disbelieving Pochettino held his head in hands. His team had done everything but score during his first 45 minutes in English football. Shell-shocked Everton were just grateful to hear the half-time whistle.
There was more urgency from the boys in blue at the start of the second half and Fellaini twice came close to opening the scoring inside the first five minutes. First, a peach of a pass from Leon Osman picked out Seamus Coleman and when he chipped the ball to the far post, Fellaini’s effort was turned behind by Boruc. Then from the corner the big midfielder headed straight at the keeper.
Osman was involved again when his perfectly executed half volley from the outside the box was zooming towards the top corner of the net before being diverted off target by the head of Maya Yoshida.
Everton should taken the lead in the 62nd minute when substitute Victor Anichebe, on for the injured Coleman, teed up Jelavic inside the six-yard box only for the Croatian to stumble and slice the ball horribly.
It would be his last contribution of the night – he was withdrawn in the 66th minute for Kevin Mirallas to take to the field for the first time since November.
Almost immediately, Anichebe’s angled shot was pushed away by the increasingly busy Boruc. By contrast, Howard was a virtual, and grateful, spectator. This was much more like the Everton that we’ve been used to this season and Anichebe was proving too hot to handle.
He did well again in the 73rd minute to find Mirallas inside the box but after doing well to create space for himself, the Belgian couldn’t keep his final effort low enough.
Lambert, who had been well-shackled in the second period, headed a Puncheon corner just over the bar in the 83rd minute but it was very much an isolated threat on the Everton goal.
Indeed, the final effort of the evening came from Mirallas but it didn’t really stretch Boruc.
Following recent events at St Mary’s there was a lot of outside interest in this game but in the event it wasn’t one that will linger long in the memory.